Jensen, Arthur Robert

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JENSEN, Arthur Robert

(b. 24 August 1923 in San Diego, California), psychologist and educator, best known since the 1960s for his prolific writings and research on intelligence testing and on racial and ethnic differences in cognitive abilities.

Jensen and one sister were born to Linda Mary (Schacht-mayer) and Arthur Alfred Jensen, the owner-operator of a local lumber company. A lifelong lover of music, Jensen played clarinet as a teen in the San Diego Symphony but put aside his interest in the symphony orchestra to enter the University of California, Berkeley, where he earned his B.A. degree in psychology in 1945. He taught high school while completing his M.A. degree in psychology at San Diego State College in 1952, then his Ph.D. in psychology at Teacher's College of Columbia University in 1956. During his two-year postdoctorate study in London from 1956 to 1958, Jensen was heavily influenced by his mentor Hans Eysenck's methods of experimental research on personality. In 1958 Jensen joined the faculty of the University of California, Berkeley, where he has remained a teacher and researcher, except for a few leaves, including a Guggenheim Fellowship to London (1964–1965) and a fellowship with the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (1967–1968). Jensen married Barbara Jane DeLarme on 6 May 1960. They had one daughter.

Long before President Lyndon B. Johnson envisioned the Great Society in 1964, some psychologists were involved in activism on many fronts—education, social welfare, civil rights, and health care. For example, the Society for Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI), formed in 1936, played a key role in the U.S. Supreme Court's 1954 desegregation decision in Brown v. Board of Education. The SPSSI also sponsored a series of books, including a 1968 volume on social class, race, and psychological development in which coeditors Martin Deutsch, Irwin Katz, and Jensen extolled the value of educational reform on children's school performance.

By invitation, Jensen soon published an electrifying article in the winter 1969 issue of Harvard Educational Review, "How Much Can We Boost IQ and Scholastic Achievement?" This 123-page opus began with a provocative sentence ("Compensatory education has been tried and it apparently has failed"), then went on to marshal data documenting four points: (1) one's intelligence is best seen as a single general ability, or g; (2) among individuals, variations in g are due more to one's genetic inheritance than environmental experiences; (3) among groups, there are large differences in g based on race and social class, which are also due primarily to inheritance; and (4) because of this, past and future compensatory education programs likely have limited impact in equalizing achievement for low-performance groups.

Criticism was swift and heated. The spring 1969 issue of Harvard Educational Review devoted 118 pages to lengthy critiques by seven prominent psychologists, along with Jensen's rejoinder. Jensen's article was a surprise, quickly assailed by activist psychologists as ill-timed scientific racism that could undermine society's evolution towards greater racial equality. These critics attacked "Jensenism" on many levels—that its conclusions were premature, inaccurate, misleading, ill-willed, and pandering to reactionary forces in society. Supporters acknowledged Jensen's expertise, his right to publish his views, and even his courage to express unpopular conclusions on a taboo topic. Controversy quickly escalated, as Jensen threatened to sue SPSSI president Martin Deutsch (his former coeditor) for defamation, and rare editorials in Psychology Today and the Wall Street Journal in 1973 chastened SPSSI for overdoing its caustic attacks. Leftist death threats moved Cal-Berkeley administrators to assign plainclothes police officers to accompany Jensen around campus. His classes were disrupted, and there were unsuccessful calls for his censure by Cal-Berkeley and the American Psychological Association (APA).

After 1969 Jensen continued undaunted through the next three decades, publishing a dozen books and over 200 research articles on differential psychology, as well as group differences in personality and ability. Jensen's writing is aimed at the public as well as colleagues and is known for its clarity, statistical prowess, and attention to detail. Jensen avers that the recognition of group differences is not the same as racism, which is a political philosophy of differential treatment that he does not espouse. Jensen regards himself as an early target of scientific intolerance and political correctness (even before the term PC was coined), one who was attacked simply for trying to report his scientific findings without bias or compromise. At the time the controversial book The Bell Curve, written by Charles Murray and Richard J. Herrnstein, appeared in 1994, Jensen was recognized as one of a small cadre of top scientists also known for their outspoken hereditarian views, along with Herrnstein at Harvard, Hans Eysenck in London, and J. Philippe Rushton in Canada. While attempts to marginalize him and his work have had some success, Jensen has remained by all measures a prolific researcher whose books and presentations draw large and interested audiences, and his work has partially segued into the emerging field of evolutionary psychology.

The nature–nurture issue had a tragic history earlier in the twentieth century. At one extreme, National Socialist (Nazi) scientists in Germany during the 1930s and 1940s held a radical genetic view of behavior consistent with their ideas of Aryan supremacy and "inferior human stocks." At the other extreme, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) under Joseph Stalin and scientist Trofim Lysenko developed an equally radical environmentalist view trying to "outlaw" the notion of any fixed genetic tendencies. The very mixed views of American behavioral scientists prior to World War II veered sharply from genes toward environment in the wake of Nazi horrors (sterilization, genocide, eugenics, breeding camps, and slavery), and then even more so during the accelerating environmental optimism of the Great Society of the 1960s. The dual impact of Jensen's work since the 1960s has been to retain the hereditarian view within behavioral science discussions and to clarify the interplay between science and politics on a sensitive issue such as race—clearly, some see behavioral science more as a valuable engine for social change, while others see it more as a search for truth and open dialogue not to be compromised by policy concerns or stifled by political correctness.

No full-length biography of Jensen has been written. Several scientists have written books in response to Jensen's theories. See Arthur Stanley Goldberger, Jensen's Twin Fantasies (1976), and Sonja C. Grover, The Cognitive Basis of the Intellect: A Response to Jensen's "Bias in Mental Testing" (1981). A biographical profile is in Contemporary Authors Online (2002).

Harold Takooshian